And here is the third and final part of our review of the Imec.istart accelerator from Belgium. We have already shared with you exciting feedback from our interviewees and accelerator’s alumni. However, we continue …
What are the pros and possibly cons noted for themselves by our today’s interviewees? Let’s find out a little bit more about one of the leading startup acceleration programs in Europe – Imec.istart. We left the most interesting last, so don’t miss it.
What do ex-participants think about Imec.istart?
BUFFL: “They really try to get you from zero to hero, at least in general knowledge that you need to have – in legal, sales, marketing, product development, operations, human resources. “
Dennis De Clercq – Co-founder
idea: “BUFFL can help you validate the right things at the right time. “
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We were lucky to talk to an experienced product and service developer and the Co-founder of the BUFFL startup – Dennis De Clercq, who shared with us the background of their startup idea and exciting facts about participation in the Imec.istart accelerator.
“Lots of people here in Belgium and worldwide are developing products and services that no one is using or buying. That’s why 75-85% of products/services fail within one year after the launch, and 92% fail after three years,” stated our interviewee and explained his vision of the problem. The reason for such statistics is that we make design and innovation decisions based on gut feeling. He highlighted the main point: “During the innovation processes, when people are doing brainstorms and idea sessions, there is no real contact with the end-user/customer.”
Dennis continued with the following: “That’s why we created a tool that uses a “local power,” here in Belgium, which allows us to do market research within 10 minutes, instead of collecting and gathering data for months.”
The Co-founder of BUFFL gave us a brief description: “We have a mobile application, and we put a lot of effort in community building, which makes it possible for us to ask users questions and reward them. Our clients have access to a data dashboard where they can upload their survey and push it to go live.”
The main reasons to participate
The startup arena has its own specificity. Navigating through it isn’t always obvious. Acceleration programs help startups define their development path by providing the necessary training, investment opportunities, and networking. The first thing we were curious about was why BUFFL decided to participate in the accelerator?
“First of all, we were targeting corporate clients at that moment as our main customers. Imec.istart has a vast network in that scope. So, it was interesting for us to join their network,” Dennis outlined their main reason for participating in the Imec.istart accelerator.
On reflection, he highlighted the following: “Secondly, they were providing 50 000 euros for 6% of assets, which can give a startup around 1.6 million of validation. What a huge deal to think about.”
He also added: “We’ve lacked marketing and legal experts in our team. What was also important for us was the community of startups who were going the same path as we did.”
How hard was it to be accepted?
Before you decide to apply for participation in an accelerator, you must clearly define the stage of development of your startup, and find out if it is ready for rapid growth. Some accelerators accept startups at very early stages with only an idea and a concept. Most, let alone major league accelerators, require at least a prototype or MVP (minimum viable product), a customer base, or the first successful sales.
We asked Dennis about the selection process and whether it was challenging to become a participant in the Imec.istart accelerator. “It was tough but for a good reason, as they want to be the number one startup acceleration program in the world,” stated our interviewee and continued with the following. “In my personal opinion, they have to keep the quality of the startups joining them – that’s the right track for them.”
What are the basics a startup must have to become a participant in the Imec.istart acceleration program? “To join Imec.istart it would be best if you had: your first 3-5 paid customers, mature team, partner network, road map of 3-5 years, and financial strategy,” Dennis listed the necessary points.
In the end, the Co-founder of BUFFL said: “In general, Imec.istart accepts and invests in startups that for sure will pay back themself in 5 years.”
From zero to hero
After interviewing different startups, we found out the many benefits of the Imec.istart accelerator’s educational program. Let’s see what Dennis, in particular, thinks about teaching, mentoring, and the program in general?
“During one year, you have to complete a boot camp,” stated the Co-founder of BUFFL. He continued with more details: “They try to get you from zero to hero, at least in general knowledge that you need to have – in legal, sales, marketing, product development, operations, human resources.”
Participating in an accelerator gives you a great chance to meet experts from a wide variety of industries, which will help you identify and address the weaknesses of your project, provide actionable and relevant advice. So, of course, we asked Dennis about mentors and experts.
“They have a vast network of experts,” stated our interviewee and completed his answer with the following facts, “and what they do is putting the expert in the house. It means that you can hire an expert for 20% of his price; the rest pays the accelerator.” He noticed: “We had sales and marketing experts who helped us with our sales and our marketing strategy.”
What about the unique features of the accelerator’s educational program? “Also, startups have to create a monthly blog with their efforts, numbers, sales, and activity so that the accelerator can follow you. We also had a board meeting every three months, discussing our ups and downs,” Dennis highlighted the exciting specifics of the Imec.istart program.
In the end, Dennis noticed an interesting fact: “If you are in the Imec.istart acceleration program, you automatically get the link to the Start it@KBC accelerator; because they are partners, you get access to their offices.”
The power of networking
In the accelerator, startups get a whole network of valuable contacts and acquaintances. Many of them can become potential partners or investors. In addition, aspiring co-founders work with mentors. As a result, during the program, entrepreneurs communicate with each other, consult with specialists, look for people to join the team, and present themselves to potential investors.
During our interview with Dennis, he told us the following about the networking opportunities in the Imec.istart accelerator.
“Within the Imec.istart partners’ network, there are many companies from different industries, which was very beneficial for us,” stated our interviewee and explained his opinion,” because of our startup’s main activity, our clients are everywhere.
The Co-founder of BUFFL highlighted some more details about networking in Imec.istart: “We knew that with their network, we would get access to a massive group of potential clients. The Imec.istart acceleration program helped us to get the right contacts in place. By talking to the right people and our coach, we set our startup in the right direction.”
Naturally, top acceleration programs provide funding for startup development. These programs can work with public/private financial institutions and international partners with significant resources to invest in your startup. Of course, we decided to find out what possibilities the Imec.istart accelerator can offer to support startups financially and asked the Co-founder of BUFFL.
They have contacts with the biggest banks in Europe,” Dennis confirmed the partnership of the accelerator with large financial institutions and highlighted the following information that is important from the point of view of investment opportunities. “What they do is help you with finmix and to define your strategy; if you want to grow internationally, inside Belgium or through the clients, for example. They try to get the right financial mix into your plan.
He added: “So if you want to scale internationally, then they would advise you to look for specific VCs who have international connections.”
The biggest advantage
Entrepreneurs are some of the most passionate people around. This is a must if you are trying to start a company from scratch. But even the most devoted of us can burn out, get lost on the way to success. Accelerators help you have a guiding force behind you, which gives you that extra boost. We decided to ask our interviewee what he considers the most significant advantage of the Imec.istart accelerator for himself as a co-founder and leader.
“The biggest advantage of participating in the Imec.istart accelerator for me is that you can discover yourself as an entrepreneur,” stated Dennis and explained his claim. “Of course, there are a lot of successful startups who haven’t gone through an acceleration program. But there is indeed a reason why they exist. The network is crucial when you start your own business. It would be best if you had connections and someone experienced who can lead you, guide you, focus you on the most important things. You can try yourself in a safe environment,” he concluded.
Change of focus
For fledgling and even growing businesses, joining a startup acceleration program can be a big boost to stimulate business growth and promote success. Our last question for Dennis touched on the changes, namely, what kind of transformation the company went through during its participation in the Imec.istart accelerator.
“Before joining Imec.istart we were developing our product, trying to find and attract first clients. Still, it wasn’t easy to focus on the right strategy. That’s why we have changed our focus,” answered the Co-founder of BUFFL. On reflection, he also added: “In the end, we have found our product-market-fit based on the knowledge and network connections that we got during participation in Imec.istart. We have learned how to solve the pain of every target customer.”
Adshot: “They really go in depth to teach you everything about business development – financing, sales, marketing, all kinds of these things you need to achieve success.”
Axel Gekiere – the Co-founder
idea: “Adshot is the LinkedIn for members of the influencer marketing industry to connect and collaborate.”
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We were lucky to interview the Сo-founder of one of such innovative digital platforms and learn more from Axel Gekiere about the platform itself and their experience of participating in the Imec.istart accelerator. But first, what is Adshot?
“Unlike many other solutions, Adshot has built a real two-sided platform that offers both brands and creators the right tools to efficiently network and collaborate on branded content,” said the company’s website.
In-depth of education
In fact, accelerators are not only about finding funding for your startup. For example, the Imec.istart accelerator offers training in all the basic skills required to run a business, be it marketing, communications, finance, or even technical skills, to prepare your startup for market entry and future success. But let’s find out more from the very first hands. We asked Axel what the purpose of joining Imec.istart.
“First of all, I’ve personally heard a lot of positive feedback about their program. Lots of startups who participated in Imec.istart achieved great success,” stated our interviewee and shared his valuable insight with us. “They go in-depth to teach you everything about business development – financing, sales, marketing, branding; all the things you need to achieve success,” noticed the Co-founder of Adshot.
In the end, he said: “And of course, they provide the 50k funding, which is a good start for any startup.”
At the right time, at the right stage of development
Having learned about the reasons for participating in the Imec.istart accelerator, we wondered at what stage of development the startup was, or rather with what “baggage” Adshot got into the program.
“We were still in the development stage,” said Axel and further clarified their current situation at that moment, “the platform wasn’t officially released. Still, we already had our first clients. They helped us to test the prototype and find out the adjustments we needed to make to scale it up for a fully operating platform.”
Furious competition or why you have to be realistic
It’s no secret that it’s hard to get into the top programs of business accelerators. The best programs accept less than 5% of applicants. Most of them have a specific set of requirements that differ from program to program.
We, in turn, asked Axel to tell us about the process of selection to the Imec.istart accelerator and how difficult it was to become a participant in the program.
“The competition was quite furious,” confessed Axel from the first second. He added some more: “It was difficult, but I guess we were lucky because they were looking for startups from the gaming industry. And what I’ve heard after is that everyone in the jury voted ‘yes.’
He continued with more details of the process: “We had one interview before we pitched in front of the jury. You can pitch for the general jury – board of Imec.istart, and vertical jury which consists of the industry representatives, like telecom, media, and so on.”
In the end, Axel gladly shared some valuable advice with our audience: “Don’t participate in Imec.istart if you have just an idea, be realistic! You have to show them that you’ve already done something, for example, if you have a prototype of the service/technology, first customers/sales, business, or marketing strategy. What you have to do is to show them that you already have a plan on how to grow and scale and overcome challenges of the business world.”
Many accelerator programs offer access to unique learning opportunities. First of all, these are official mentoring programs with successful mentors represented by company founders, investors, and experts in growing businesses. Throughout the program, startups take part in seminars, training, meetings with mentors. What about the Imec.istart accelerator? Axel generously shared with us some interesting facts about the educational possibilities of the program.
“We had a venture acceleration manager, who was also from the gaming industry, so he had a lot of knowledge and expertise to share with us,” stated the Co-founder of Adshot. Our interviewee noticed: “They advised us of a mentor, but you can change him during the program if you don’t have a connection.”
He continued by sharing some other details about the educational part of the accelerator: “We had several types of courses and workshops, and acceleration board meetings with invited experts. Actually, you can pose any of your questions directly to the community and get an answer from your mentor, internal or external experts, industry partners, or other participants,” Axel emphasized the excellent community spirit of the Imec.istart.
In the end, Axel shared with us a fact which confirms the contribution of the Imec.istart to its participants: “Imec.istart is very flexible in the educational part. Even when we have finished the program, we could still visit workshops and courses.”
Community. Network. Investors
The main advantage of acceleration programs is a network of like-minded people who also try to develop and scale their startups and face many problems as you do. This community usually thrives even after the end of the program, forming the backbone of a powerful network.
Another benefit is that participating in an accelerator allows you to find potential investors, especially if you are working with a top-tier accelerator like Imec.istart.
What did we learn from Axel during the interview about the community and networking opportunities in the Imec.istart accelerator?
“First, what I have to highlight are the commercial connections,” started the Co-founder of Adshot and continued with the detailed explanation. “There are a lot of industry partners involved in Imec.istart. So you get an incredible opportunity to pitch in front of them without making any effort. Imec.istart is a bridge between companies and startups,” stated our interviewee.
Later, he moved to the community question: “Basically, they organize many events that you can attend. So you have a nice chance to get to know different people, including startups who are in the same situation as you.”
What about investors? Axel shared with us the following: “Twice per year, they organize an investor day, and you get an opportunity to pitch in front of two hundreds of investors.”
A smooth service for startups
After the praise feedback from the Сo-founder of Adshot, we nevertheless decided to ask Axel to draw a line and highlight the main advantages of the Imec.istart accelerator, which they noted for their startup and participation in the program.
“I think their experience and knowledge because they are a global player was the biggest benefit for us,” stated our interviewee. He added: “They are innovating themselves a lot. So I think all their experience translates into a smooth service for startups.”
But what about cons, were there any of them? Axel gave us a concise answer: “The only thing I would advise them to do is to increase the office space.”
“I think their experience and knowledge because they are a global player was the biggest benefit for us.”